Planner Review Planners

my weekly review process

January 29, 2018

I wrote a post on this approximately 1.5 years ago, but I feel like it’s worth revisiting.  Around that time, I tweaked David Allen’s classic weekly review process for my own purposes and wrote it down for posterity in my planner ‘sidekick’ notebook.

The kids look like babies in that post (and many other things have happened!) but that process remains unchanged.  I hesitate to call it THE SECRET TO LIFE! or anything overblown, but . . .

. . . to me, it kind of is.

Life contains a lot of moving parts, and without getting a handle on ALL of them on a regular basis, I never really feel at peace.  Neither did David Allen — getting everything out of your head and into a trusted system is the driving force behind his famous method.

My weekly review is as follows:

1) Look at master projects lists of things I have going on and want to achieve.  I now have them divided into 3 realms (work / podcast/blog / personal/family), and I edit these lists on a yearly basis as well as cross things off as they are complete.
2) Review monthly Next Actions list — this is pulled from the master projects lists AND from the goals lists I make for the year, adding selected items to the weekly list 
NOTE #1 – having done 1 & 2, I can stop thinking about big picture stuff because I’ve narrowed down the specific items for the week.

3) Empty physical inboxes to zero.  Especially the mail, which I typically let pile up over the week.  I pay all bills, fill out school forms, etc.  This keeps all of those annoying and distracting loose ends under control.
4) Empty gmail.  This sounds harder than it is.  I basically just:
a) respond to anything I wanted to respond to
b) put any email that is serving as a ‘to do’ reminder onto an actual list (weekly, monthly, on planner, whatever)
c) archive EVERYTHING else in one fell swoop
This way I don’t miss anything and don’t really think about the buildup that might be accumulating during the week.  I’m not perfect — every so often I archive something that I shouldn’t have due to going quickly, but this is infrequent.
5) Empty work inboxes to zero (email + clinical results).  This I always aim to finish on Friday afternoon!
NOTE #2 – after step 5, I’m done worrying about little loose ends.  They are now captured in my system and I do not worry I am missing details that will come back to bite me later.
6) Plan workouts, meals, and confirm any upcoming childcare.  This assures that I get the foundation habits (healthy eating, exercise, and having some Josh/personal time) in place.  Do I always stick to things 100%?  No.  But I do a million times better than if I didn’t have a plan at all.  I also ideally review the plan for timing of workouts with Josh.  As he is exercising more now, I think we will start doing a better job at strategizing when we can each fit in our own time to work out.
7) Review plan with Josh.  Essential – to make sure he knows generally what’s going on (big events, babysitting needs, any abnormal hours of work/social time).  We have actually been using google calendar lately (well, he uses it — I just post TO it to alert him of things) and it has worked, but face-to-face is even better.  We don’t usually talk about the weekend until Friday but any mid-week stuff gets discussed before.
NOTE #3 – steps 6 & 7 account for logistics, so that I can actually DO what I’ve set out to do in the earlier steps.
This looks complicated and time consuming, but it really isn’t, once I got in the habit.  And I LOOOVE starting every week with a fresh clean slate, knowing exactly what’s on the table.
Oh, and when do I do this?  Often I do steps 1-4 over the weekend at some point, step 5 at work on Friday, and steps 6-7 either Sunday or early Monday morning.   
I’ve discussed before that I have grand plans of someday pulling all of my planning techniques together into an ebook of some form — this is the kind of content I have in mind!  Does it sound interesting to anyone?  Do you do something similar?  And finally . . . anyone want to be a test subject for a planning makeover of sorts?  I am going to need testimonials . . .
SIDE NOTE – no one ended up getting sick this weekend – I feel so lucky!  More later b/c G is up!


  • Reply emily March 10, 2019 at 7:06 pm

    i’d definitely be interested in the ebook and would love to be a guinea pig! i am a planning junkie. my son just got into reading the "frog and toad" books, and i love the "make a list" story.

  • Reply Rachel March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    Yes I would LOVE a planning makeover. I end up just having a running to do list in a notebook but I can”t seem to get it organized/updated by topic and I also don”t have it with me at al times. I also Don”t have a good way to keep my husband updated (partially because he doesn”t always check google calendar!) as much as I love writing things down, I need a combination paper/electronic system that I just haven”t figured out.

  • Reply Amy D. March 10, 2019 at 7:06 pm

    I’d be so interested if you wrote an ebook of your planning techniques. You actually have and continue to serve as my planning inspiration. I find your planning methods so functional! It looks like a lot of people have already volunteered, but if you need more test subjects, I’d be more than happy. I have planner peace with my Hobonichi but still feel like my overall method could use some tweaking. I definitely need to give GTD another try and break it down as you do.

    Thanks for all these great posts!

  • Reply paulien March 10, 2019 at 7:06 pm

    Yes, most definitely interested in the book, and also in being a test subject! I have followed your blog for years but don’t often comment (I used to be girlinmaths) and most love your planning content. You are my planner inspiration. I can definitely use some help in this area.

  • Reply Julia March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    Hi Sarah,

    love your blog & podcast, would be very interested in your organizing ebook and would like to volunteer for an organizing makeover. I am a physician scientist with 2 kids, debating a third, not sure we can manage in terms of organizing kids and careers, though. Would be be thrilled to test whether better organizational skills can help us.

  • Reply akapulko2020 March 10, 2019 at 7:06 pm

    I’m buying the e-book! Yes, before you’ve written it 🙂

    Would love a planning makeover as well -I’ve got most of the "have-to-dos" in control, it’s the things that I want to achieve personally/not immediately must-do at work that I’ve no idea how to manage…

  • Reply Megan March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    Would love to hear how you hold your planning ideas next to Gretchen Rubin’s "4 Tendencies" in the idea of a planner makeover! I have similar-ish planning methods to you, which are not hard for me to complete at all, but neither my friends nor my husband do anything similar (or could even imagine it.) I wonder if this type of detailed planning is an Upholder thing? Would it even work for others with different motivational needs/ 4 Tendency styles? So curious and would LOVE to see this explored 🙂

    • Reply Ashley March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

      I test as a questioner but personally think I may be some sort of stealth-rebel. I find that planning is REALLY helpful for me to get clear on priorities – but that I tend to rebel against my hour-by-hour attempts at scheduling.

    • Reply Jen March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

      Can attest to fact that it definitely works for this Questioner! Had to re-read GTD to convince myself & make it stick but 3 years later it’s still the anchor to my week.

  • Reply Caroline March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    This structure definitely appeals to me—I compartmentalize my life mentally, so it only makes sense to divide up long term goals/projects that way (item 1). I would love an ebook full of content like this!

  • Reply omdg March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    Why not makeover LV? 😉

  • Reply Sarah March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    Awesome! Where do you keep the projects list?

  • Reply Kara March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    🙋🏻‍♀️ I need the e-book, I need the planning makeover…I need you to come back to NC for a period of time and help me get my life back in order all together! After getting my daughter through the hell of her senior year of high school last year and getting through the processes of applying and getting into college…and then getting her off to college in the fall…I kinda dropped the ball on my stuff and let things pile up because planning for college for her was exhausting and I am just now recovering! I love posts like this because it gives me a basic template to follow and I find that so very helpful!

  • Reply OrganisingQueen March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    I do a modified version – a goals review every Thursday (because my accountability partner and I chat on Thursdays) and then logistics weekly planning on a Sunday night.

    I’m thrilled at all the people who want to plan better (nerdy of me, or maybe upholder-ish?)

  • Reply edith March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    This is really interesting to me! Thanks for posting an update to the older post. I think I’m kind of in between no process and a great process and find this really helpful!

  • Reply Kristin March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    I am definitely interested in a planning makeover. Need to get back to work but can provide more info on my situation later.

  • Reply Elaine March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    I”d love to read an ebook on this, I really enjoy reading and listening to how other people plan their lives. I use a somewhat similar system though my partner and I don”t live together or have children (yet! both will hopefully be changing over the next couple of years) so things might be more tricky then as he is the complete opposite to me when it comes to planning.

    Once a week, usually on weekends, I write everything in my diary (from Kikki K) though I”ve somehow gotten into the habit of using four different colours for the 4 main domains (my roster/appts, social, study/work projects outside of work hours and exercise). Any jobs for the week go in the little blank section I have weekly and monthly goals over on the monthly page which I refer back to when filling out my weekly pages.

    I”m glad you all remained healthy over the weekend 🙂

  • Reply Erika March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    I’m really interested in this! The ebook, planning makeover, ALL of it. Thanks for posting an update. I’m curious how you update these longer-term goals and action items as things crop up? I do well with weekly planning and specific events, childcare needs, etc. with a combination of paper and a shared Google calendar with my husband. But the longer term things linger and I don’t feel like I am making progress on the bigger stuff. Where do you maintain your master projects list and how does this differ from goals? Does something have to have a certain time commitment/importance to make it onto a master projects list vs. a simple to-do list? I am trying… my Hobonichi Techo Avec JUST arrived in the mail so I’m experimenting with setting it up and your posts are a great reference.

  • Reply gwinne March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    Would definitely buy an e-book of yours on this topic. You really do seem to have it all together! I also use a modified GTD system but there’s an area at which I fail: the physical inboxes. My desk just builds up… I’m also not good at actually getting done what’s on my list for my HOME category; I carry things over from week to week. I’m great when it comes to work; I need to figure out exactly what the issue is, other than not having enough time (which I really don’t!) and attending to domestic emergencies (sick kid, snow day, new cat, etc)

  • Reply Colleen March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    THANK YOU for posting this! THis is SO helpful, and I’m SO excited at the prospect of your ebook. I’d SO be interested in a planning make-over. I’ve been listening to GTD but am really struggling to figure out how to best implement in my life, even though I’m desperately in need of help. I have all these scattered lists that leave me feeling frantic, and I’d REALLY love to get it all together.

  • Reply CBS March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    This is so good! I’ve just started a postdoc and there are about 5 team projects in addition to my own research. Combined with a 6 month old baby, pumping at work and I’m feeling like I’m constantly spinning around. My dad is currently here taking care of childcare which gives us some flexibility but once nursery starts in July, we’ll have to coordinate dropoffs and pick-ups.

    I use a bullet journal but I think I need to be more consistent about the weekly review and project list. One habit I’m enjoying is writing a post-it note before I leave the office with my tasks for the next day. If it doesn’t fit on a post-it, I’m taking on too much. I also try to eat the frog first, getting the hardest task done first thing.

    I’d totally read an ebook about this stuff – so many of the planner stuff seems focused on people who don’t have a lot going on?

  • Reply Bridget March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    I would love to be a guinea pig and am desperately in need of some planning help. I have 3 kids (5,3 and 1) and work a fairly demanding job (as does my husband). I keep my to do lists in multiple places and am always trying to keep track of things that need to get done and end up feeling like I can”t keep my head above water.

  • Reply Jenny March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    I would be totally up for a planning makeover. I’m pretty hyper-organized already BUT I keep a lot of to-do lists/schedules/priorities/etc in my head, my email, different apps, and so on, plus I tend to do a lot of responding to whatever’s right in front of me in the moment and only get to larger goals when I can’t ignore them any longer instead of making small but steady progress. And although I do get it all done and more, I am always suffering a little anxiety that I might accidentally miss something, so I would love it if my process was more defined and purposeful so I could relax into my life a bit more.

  • Reply Sarah March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    I’d be interested in a planning makeover. I make lots of different to do lists but they tend to be scattered around and make me more stressed out rather than less. Also tend to get more done with some outside accountability so this would be helpful. My husband and I use google calendar to plan activities but would like to optimize it further with more structure for our weekends. We are in a transition phase as I head back to work from maternity leave #2 in a few weeks. Love the podcast- has been fun to listen to each week!

  • Reply Morgan March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    Very interested in your potential book and also in a planning makeover! I do ok – I even use the hobo cousin – but I have a 10 month old and a husband and a full time attorney job, so I could definitely use improvement!!

  • Reply Jennifer Robertson March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    Would love an ebook and a makeover!

  • Reply Angeliki March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    Sarah, this is awesome. Please, please, please, put all these together in an ebook, we need it!
    I’m also up for planning make-over. I used to be really good at using the GTD system and using my trusted Filofax to set goals, plan weekly and monthly and create lists for different work projects. however, now with my 6-month baby and on maternity leave, I feel completely out of it. How do I plan my life now? Will I ever be as productive at work? BTW I’m loving the podcast.

  • Reply Kristi March 10, 2019 at 7:06 pm

    I do something very similar, didn’t know it had a name though! Thanks for describing it so thoroughly 🙂 and I used to keep separate lists and notebooks, but now I’ve started using an Inkwell Press planner. I just add my own extra pages like home projects, kid stuff, etc right in there so it’s easy to reference.

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